The robot cars are here! The robot cars are here! For the first time in the US, driverless shuttles will zip around employees of a Northern California office park. The first public trials are set to start next summer, pending local approval.
The shuttles, which are designed by a company called EasyMile, will zip through Bishop Ranch in San Ramon, a 2m square metre office park that’s home to the headquarters of companies like AT&T and General Electric. The shuttles will travel at very slow speeds along dedicated routes, and the pilot program will start with only two buses.
Driverless shuttles are working out just fine in many other countries from the Netherlands to China. An entire fleet of driverless “pods” are being tested in the UK city of Milton Keynes. There’s even a pilot program of driverless golf carts designed by MIT that zoom people around a Singapore park
In fact, EasyMile is already operating similar shuttles around the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne campus in Switzerland, as well as in other countries like Italy and Finland.
Of course there are plenty of Google’s driverless cars roaming the streets already, but they’re not available for the public to ride (and they also have “drivers” sitting in them). These shuttles also might have drivers in them at first (some in China do) but that’s purely for the psychological benefit of other humans.
Besides the novelty factor — The robot cars are here! — there could be some serious real-world impact if these things work out. Right now dozens of drivers who shuttle technology company workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley are threatening to walk off the job due to very long shifts and extremely low pay. Whizzing employees around an office park is a little different than barreling passengers down the highway, but this is an important start. Let the robot drivers take over the more geographically gruelling routes and help the human drivers get better jobs that allow them to be closer to home.